Rosemary Knutson, a long-time resident of the Cedar-Riverside community, remembers Dania Hall as it was in the 1960’s: a place for dancing, music and “misfits.”
“When I was young and in college it was for the hippies and the biker gangs, and way back in the day it was for the Danish and the Swedish immigrants,” she said.
Today there is nothing but a memorial on the former site of Dania Hall near the intersection of Cedar Avenue and Fifth Street South , after a fire in February 2000 burned down the more than 100-year-old building to smoldering brick.
But the city is moving ahead with plans to develop the property and is holding a community meeting Wednesday night to discuss an interim use for the site. The city also recently created an advisory group to guide officials in making the best possible sale for the West Bank community — a decision that many hope will look at the future of the community while remembering the history of the former Dania Hall.
Dania Hall was built in 1886 in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood. Constructed in the imposing “Victorian eclectic” style, the red-brick building made a statement in the neighborhood with a monumental five-story tower, city documents show.
In the early years, the structure served the Danish community as a gathering space, with a vaudeville stage on the top levels for entertainment and various retail uses on the street front, including longtime tenant Richter Pharmacy. In 1975, the site was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
However, the building stood vacant after a 1991 fire destroyed major portions of the upper level and roof.
Then under the ownership of Minneapolis Community Development Agency , several plans to redevelop the space were proposed, but the high cost of renovating the fire-damaged property and an increase in area street crime crippled the development of the space, according to city documents.
But in 1998, the Cedar-Riverside community decided to earmark $1.5 million of Neighborhood Revitalization Program funds to renovate the space, restoring some of its original glory as an entertainment hall.
Nearly $1 million had been spent on renovations of Dania Hall when a sudden fire broke out on Feb. 28, 2000, destroying the 113-year-old building.
In January, city officials met to discuss plans to redevelop the site and address a growing concern among community members that the space should have an interim use to reduce criminal and nuisance activity in the area.
The group didn’t meet again until June 10, when the city committed to actively seek requests for proposals and established the Dania Hall Advisory Group.
The group, composed of West Bank business owners, community activists and residents, will take suggestions from the community and help the city makes its final decision on the sale of the property.
While the group is only advisory in nature, Ward 2 Councilman Cam Gordo n said he thinks the group has significant power in influencing the final outcome as representatives of the community.
“If projects come forward that the advisory group has strong feelings in favor or against, it will be very significant,” Gordon said.
Suggestions for the redevelopment of the site have varied from a garden or farmers market space, to housing available to students.
“People really want something that will serve the neighborhood, like a gym or library, or even a post office,” Gordon said.
Another use people are advocating is returning the hall to its former use as a space for entertainment.
Longtime resident Knutson would like to see the upper level returned to an entertainment venue and the lower street level used for retail, restaurants or a café, as long as the space is economically viable.
The West Bank Business Association and the West Bank Community Coalition are hosting a meeting Wednesday night to propose interim uses and work out details on a temporary lease with the city of Minneapolis.
But Ben Marcy, president of WBCC, said issues have come up on how long the temporary lease should be.
“The city is not willing to give a long temporary lease beyond the year because they really want to push on … getting a potential developer,” Marcy said. “The issue with that is the prospect of getting a developer in this economy is questionable.”
In the meantime, Marcy said there is a lot of interest in planting a community garden or creating a farmers market “right in the center of a commercial district.”
Knutson said that moving ahead she wants to see, more than anything, the preservation of the spirit of Dania Hall as a welcome place for everyone.
“The beauty of West Bank and Dania Hall was that it didn’t matter who you were or where you came from, you were welcome,” she said. “That is the part that we need to keep alive.”